Monday, August 15, 2011

Janitor rescued priceless Yankees memorabilia

The front page of the Jan. 6, 1960, issue of The Sporting News contained an article that will be on interest to some collectors of high-end vintage baseball memorabilia.

Headlined, “Records of Old Yanks Saved From Junk Heap,” the article was written by Dan Daniel, TSN’s principal Yankees beat writer.

The article provides insights on how a lot of Yankees items that have been collected over the past 65 years were nearly lost to the hobby.

Since I can add little in the way of editorial comment – this sort of stuff was always outside the realm of my collecting interests and out of my budget range – I’ll just reprint what Daniel wrote.

“NEW YORK, N.Y.—This is an incredible story. It has to do with a lot of baseball material, much of which should be in the museum at Cooperstown, N.Y., that found its way into the trash heap and then was rescued.

“In 1945, when Larry MacPhail became general manager of the Yankees, he found a vast collection of papers in the files of Edward G. Barrow, who was retiring from the command to a purely decorative post as chairman of the board.

“Apparently Larry did not have the time to go over the material which Barrow had collected for many years. Perhaps MacPhail had the time, but not the inclination. Maybe he felt that all connection with the club’s past had to be broken and a new ledger started.

“In any event, the contents of the file were thrown into the waste baskets in Larry’s office.

“The trash collector was more choosey than Larry. He spied a lot of pay checks with the endorsements of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other Yankee heroes of yore. He had a hunch that a lot of the other material was valuable even if only as souvenirs. So the trash man took all of the stuff home with him. Then he sorted it out. He realized that he had something, and began to look for a buyer.

“A book dealer on Fourteenth street purchased a lot of the stuff. Another dealer in New Haven got some of it. Many of the old checks were given away by the garbage collector to friends.

“The book dealer peddled the stuff all over the country. He offered it to magazines, to collectors of baseball memorabilia.

News Editor Bought Lot

“Finally he found a buyer in a strange place. A man named Frank, who was the labor news editor for the New York World-Telegram & Sun, purchased the lot for $1,000.

“Frank played around with the find for about two years and then disposed of it for a small profit.

“Recently a Wall Street broker called me up and asked if I could offer any advice on what could be done with the material.

“When I got in touch with him, he said that he had just sold the stuff to a magazine. He explained that while he was interested in baseball, he preferred not to move out of his field of autographs of presidents and Declaration of Independence signers.

“The material includes a mass of secret documents having to do with Ban Johnson’s organization of the American League. It includes a lot of papers covering the sale of Ruth to the Yankees, and Johnson’s fight with Colonel Jake Ruppert and Colonel Til Huston over Boston’s disposal of star stars to the New York club. There is a lot of material covering the Carl Mays case.

“The magazine has started to publish some of the more obvious stuff. It will be interesting to see if it will interpret the most important documents in the true light of their contents.”

So that’s how some of the more pricey Yankees memorabilia in the hobby made its way from Yankee Stadium to today’s collectors. It would have been interesting if Daniel had named some of the book dealers and middlemen, but perhaps at the time there was some fear that the team might have started looking for compensation for MacPhail’s failure to recognize the archive’s value.

It would also be interesting if I understood what Daniel was trying to convey in his last paragraph.

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